New Clause 5 - Updating gender neutral drafting

Armed Forces Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:15 am on 31st March 2021.

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“(1) Section 1 of the Armed Forces Act 2006 is amended as follows—

(2) In subsection (1) for ‘he’ substitute ‘they’.

(3) In subsection (1)(c) for ‘him’ substitute ‘them’.

(4) In subsection (2) for ‘he’ substitute ‘they’.”—

This new clause would allow for gender neutral language to be used in legislation pertaining to service personnel.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Carol Monaghan Carol Monaghan Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Armed Forces and Veterans), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Education) 9:30 am, 31st March 2021

I beg to move, that the clause be read a Second time.

I hope the Committee will agree to the new clause, which would establish gender-neutral drafting in the Armed Forces Act 2006. The Act should reflect the diversity of military service personnel and veterans in the UK armed forces. The armed forces should be a safe and inclusive environment for all those who serve, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity or class. That inclusivity and respect must permeate all levels of military organisation, including at legislative level. By adopting gender-neutral language in the Armed Forces Act, we can demonstrate that the legal commitment to inclusivity for all gender identities permeates it. Words have power, and language matters. It is important that we adapt the legislation to reflect the true democracy of our armed forces, and I hope the Government feel able to support this new clause.

Photo of Johnny Mercer Johnny Mercer Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (jointly with the Ministry of Defence)

Hon. Members seek to amend section 1 of the Armed Forces Act 2006 by substituting the gender-specific words in that text with gender-neutral language. Clearly, gender-neutral drafting in legislation is important, and it has been deemed essential by successive Governments in recent times. The practice now is that new primary legislation is drafted in a gender-neutral way. On 8 March 2007, the then Leader of the House of Commons, Mr Jack Straw, announced that all future Government Bills would be gender neutral

“so far as it is practicable”.—[Official Report, 8 March 2007; Vol. 457, c. 143W.]

That approach is reflected in the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel’s current drafting guidance. In accordance with that guidance, this Bill, including the amendments it makes to the Armed Forces Act 2006, has been drafted in a gender-neutral way.

However, the Armed Forces Act 2006 was drafted before the new approach of gender-neutral language was adopted, and it is not drafted in a gender-neutral way. While, as I say, the practice is now to draft in a gender-neutral way, it is not the Government’s practice to update language in all legislation that is not otherwise being amended. In short, it is one thing to insert gender-neutral legislation, as this Bill does; it is quite another to revise existing legislative text, as this new clause proposes.

Further, from a common-sense perspective, the proposed new clause is rather narrow, seeking only to amend one small part of the Armed Forces Act 2006 and leaving much of the Act in the old, gendered-pronoun style. Conversely, it would be rather impractical and time-consuming to revisit the entirety of the Act. The Government will, of course, continue to adopt gender-neutral drafting when amending the Armed Forces Act 2006 for other reasons. On that basis, I hope the hon. Member will agree to withdraw her new clause.

Photo of Carol Monaghan Carol Monaghan Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Armed Forces and Veterans), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Education)

The Minister’s response is rather disappointing. Yes, this new clause does refer to just one part of the 2006 Act, but it was hoped that that would then permeate through all of the Act. It is disappointing, when we are talking about the importance of diversity in the armed forces, that the Minister is not willing to look at this proposal. It would not be a huge amount of work to amend the entire Act; it would simply involve updating these particular gender-specific words. I am not going to push this new clause to a vote, but I am disappointed by the Minister’s response. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.